I think we all wish we could have spent more time with the children being supported by Los Quinchos.

Our last activity of the trip was both heavy and light. Learning about the circumstances that got each child into a Los Quinchos program was heartbreaking. It made us hurt and angry and frustrated that we couldn’t make it stop. But spending time with them made an impression that won’t soon fade.

As Los Quinchos in-country director Carlos Vidal explained, nearly all of the boys at the Finca San Marcos site we visited were at one time addicted to sniffing glue. They either had no homes and lived on the streets or were sent by their families to beg for money and turned to the streets later on. Nearly all of the girls staying at Yahoska, also in San Marcos, were sexually abused and suffering in silence until a brother receiving help from Los Quinchos — or the Ministry of Family — told someone to help them.

Los Quinchos was started 23 years ago by Nicaraguans and an Italian woman to help children of the streets get clean and learn the skills for a productive life. Former Quinchos have become painters, doctors and employees of Los Quinchos. ProNica is one supporter of the organization.

Two boys at the Los Qunichos farm in San Marcos, Nicaragua.

Two boys at the Los Qunichos farm in San Marcos, Nicaragua.

We brought a pinata filled with candy to Yahoska. It was a great idea and courtesy of Kasia and Meghan. The girls loved it. So much laughter, joy and love! At Finca San Marcos, the little boys held our hands, gave us hugs, shared fruit from the trees and wanted to play. There were circus-style stunts, backflips into the pool and futbol with us.

Some were shy. Many looked tired, even haggard. In some cases we were surprised at 10-year-olds who could pass for six or seven because malnutrition had stunted their growth. In other cases, it was surprising that a boy of just 10 could have the face of a much older man, because of the effects of the shoe repair glue he used to dull his hunger and escape his reality. That glue is made for shoe repair by American adhesive company H.B. Fuller. By law, it is not sold in the U.S.

Los Quinchos programs are voluntary. The program’s first step — Filter House in Managua — is open to children who want to give up glue. As with any addiction recovery process, it is difficult. There are setbacks. And the reality is some children do not escape that life. But the staff of Los Quinchos — about 15 people after substantial budget cuts in 2012 — stay focused on their motto, which translates to “Never again a child on the street.”

The children we saw had finished the Filter House phase and were now in school and learning skills while receiving intensive therapy. During holiday break (summer vacation), most children are placed with Nicaraguan families so some Los Quinchos staff can have some time off. The children we met were not placed with families.

Our minds raced during the day we spent with those children. Now in our own homes, their faces, laughs and hugs are part of our memories, part of what will nudge us to make positive changes in our own lives.

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Meghan has an amazing laugh. If you’ve never met her, you would still be able to pick out that laugh that is so full of life and joy in a room.

Since we arrived in Nicaragua Meghan has entered every new experience with the eyes of a child — soaking it all in with wonder and excitement. Her emotions are raw and powerful and she comfortable enough in her own skin to share them openly.

In El Limon, she and Christian, a 7-year-old from the village, were attached at the hip, both laughing and loving every minute in spite of limited ability to communicate verbally. Just watching them interact was a blast.

This trip has changed Meghan, who is preparing to graduate with a degree in human services. It has opened her mind and heart to professional possibilities she had never considered before. Originally from Atchison, she has had several conversations with Lucy about living and working abroad.

Whatever she decides to do, Meghan will bring valuable perspective, zest for life and the valuable skill of adaptability.

Meghan, center, has Christina on her shoulders.

Meghan, center, has Christina on her shoulders.

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Our work is done. When the center’s windows, doors, gate and trims were painted by about 11 a.m. today.

While several students spent time raking the front yard and sweeping the community room, three students helped Teo and Ishmalle, two community leaders, construct a concrete structure around the community water pipes.

The concrete will protect the pipes from erosion-related collapse and ensure access to the shut-off valve for years to come. In the coming days, a lid the two men will construct a lid to ensure animals — or children — don’t fall in the whole.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

Travis, left, and Teo, center, work on the concrete structure to protect the water pipes.

After the work was completely finished, several of us walked to Esteli to purchase thank you gifts for our families. Most of us chose treats such as cake, pastries and cookies.

In the evening, the community gathered at the communal for a dance and chance to share our mutual appreciation for the work and hospitality. For some of us trying to express our gratitude was emotionally difficult. For Suzie, the third-time visitor, it was especially difficult. “I have a second family here in El Limon,” she told them. And as she wiped the tears from her cheeks we knew she meant it.

The dance lasted for about three hours and everyone had a great time. It was fun to see the good dancers in the group get down — including Aldo, Lucy and Ashonte especially.

Three rows of people, outside in front of a window.

We did it! The group, after the work at the community center is finished.

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Today we visited the Gallery of Heroes and Martyrs of Esteli. The local memorial museum honors those from Esteli district who died fighting the oppression of the Somoza regime in the 1970s.

We had the opportunity to hear the personal story of Dona Mina, whose only son was gruesomely executed by Somaza’s U.S.-trained special forces. He was 14 years old when he left to fight with the Sandonistas. After he was killed, Dona Mina picked up a gun and fought in his place.

Portraits of fallen fighters

Dona Mina’s son, Juan, has red behind his name. He was 14 when he left to fight with the Sandonistas.

No official records were kept, but it is believed that thousands died in the Esteli area alone. When the Sandonistas took Esteli — the day known as The Triumph, July 19, 1979 — the Somoza family fled the country. (They tried to go to the United States, but President Carter refused them entry. They went to Paraguay, where Somoza was later assassinated.)

After the war, Dona Mina was one of four mothers who began working to create a memorial to the lost loved ones — the heroes and martyrs. Those four mothers knocked on doors and grew to 3,000 mothers, each who shared a photo or memento of their son or daughter who was killed. Today, more than 400 mothers remain active in the association that runs the museum. The center receives no government support and nearly all visitors are foreign tourists.

The center focuses on the insurrection, rather than the contra war period. Dona Mina said a few other communities began similar projects but most did not result in a permanent memorial. She believes preserving the memory of those who died is crucial for several reasons. The most important: Education.

Between 1990 and 2006 Nicaraguan public schools were not allowed to teach or discuss the insurrection, the triumph or the contra wars. When the Sandonista FSLN party was re-elected in 2006 those laws were changed.

It was clear that this conflict touched every family in Nicaragua. Our guide, Aldo, who grew up in Esteli, had an uncle who fought and died in the Sandonista army. We were able to see his picture, too. He was the brother of Aldo’s mother and we were all struck by how much he looks like our friend.

A picture of Oscar Olivas Jarquin under a glass case.

Oscar Olivas Jarquin, the uncle of our guide, Aldo Marcell, was killed in December 1978 while fighting against the Somoza regime. He was 32 years old.

Although each of us is processing what we learned in our own ways, we were all touched by the personal stories shared by Dona Mina and Aldo. It made what we have read and heard feel more real, more important and more heartbreaking.

Nathan immediately saw connections to his studies at Washburn.

“I learned more today than in any history class I’ve ever taken. I’m a history major. I didn’t know any of that stuff,” he said. “I was actually kind of ashamed.”

Many in the group felt a sense of shame or guilt at the role of the United States in supporting the Somoza regime. When presenting Dona Mina with a small Ichabod sun catcher, Meghan told her we would “like to apologize for the role of our government.”

Dona Mina told us all not to feel responsible because what a government does is not the responsibility of individual citizens. She encouraged us to learn and question, but not to carry guilt or shame.

Later, Sam said what many of us were thinking: “It’s strange that the people of the country don’t seem as interested. And it blows my mind that those weren’t even all of the people who were killed.”

Dona Mina said it has been a struggle to get the young people of the community interested in the history of the insurrection and revolution. She works to preserve the memory of what happened and the memory of her son and all the others.

Tonight, as we reflected as a group, we were left with some important questions: What is our role in preventing something like the Somoza dictatorship and decades long civil wars in Nicaragua from happening again? What difference can we make and what responsibility do we have related to our government and its actions? What other injustice is occurring that government — in any country — is trying to hide, downplay or ignore? Would we be willing to sacrifice everything for what we believe in?

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Coyotepe prison, dark with a narrow strip of window with bars

Inside the first level of Coyotepe prison.

This afternoon we visited a former political prison — El Coyotepe. Some of us fought back tears. Some of us felt shame at the new-found knowledge that the United States government supported the dictatorship that tortured an unknown number of Nicaraguans right where we stood. All of us were moved.

Today, Coyotepe is preserved and operated by Nicaraguan Boy Scouts. Our guide, who works as a volunteer for tips, (again, with Lucy as our interpreter) took us through the two levels of dark cells, explaining what is known about what happened in the place unknown to even most Nicaraguans for many years.

Coyotepe, which means “coyote caves” in a local indigenous language, was originally built originally as a fortress to protect the community of Masaya.

In 1944, the Somoza government began using it as a political prison. That continued until the Revolution in 1979, when the Sandonista prisoners were liberated and the guards and other Somoza supporters were jailed there.

The Sandonista government improved conditions in the prison, adding bathroom facilities and electricity. But they continued to use it as a prison until 1983.

During the Somoza dictatorship, three levels of prison cells were used at Coyotepe. The bottom level collapsed in the 1970s. Our guide said there are theories that Somoza had it destroyed to hide an unknown number of dead prisoners. Another theory suggests dead prisoners were dumped into the nearby Masaya Volcano. Many believe the place in haunted.

It is believed that more than 600 people were held at Coyotepe at a time, 90 percent of them men.

In one of the cells on the second level, used for more “serious suspects” — likely suspected to assassination plots or other efforts to overthrow the government — we could see markings on the wall likely made by the prisoners.

“Mi quiera morir!!!” or “I want to die” is scrawled into the wall in one place. In another, the Spanish for “only Christ saves” is scratched with the date 1978.

“Aldo was my best friend because he held my hand the whole time,” Tara said. “I hung on to my St. Christopher (medal) the whole time.”

It was hard to be there, to know what happened so recently, and to confront the reality that it may be happening somewhere else in the world right now.

Reflecting as a group later on, Deanna said: “People talk about what Hitler did. This is kinda the same. I’d never even heard about all of this until now. This affected their entire country.”

Kata reminded us of the prison we learned of yesterday, in the lower levels of the Somoza palace.

Wyatt spoke of how “Medieval” it all was, but occurring as recently as 34 years ago.

“I’m glad we know that history,” Meghan said. “I can’t believe it was this recent.”

And the questions poured from us. What did the tour guide think of us? What else does our government not want us to know? How can we get the information we deserve as concerned global citizens?

Coyotepe fortress

Coyotepe was originally a fort built to protect Masaya. It was later used as a political prison by both the Somoza regime and the Sandonistas.

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painting of Augusto Sandino

This painting of Augusto Sandino fills an entire wall at the memorial museum.

After a few hours of rest time — for napping or going to the nearby grocery store — we headed out for the rest of our history adventure.

First stop — a lookout point and Augusto Sandino memorial museum on the site once occupied by the personal palace and home of the Somoza family. (Three different Somozas, the father and two sons, ran Nicaragua as dictators until the Revolution.) Somoza family members fled and the palace and all of their land and businesses were claimed by the country.

The employee at the Viva Sandino museum explained the gallery of photos and information to us, with the help of our guide, Lucy, who interpreted for us.

Sandino was killed by Somoza supporters in the 1930s after agreeing to a truce in the guerrilla revolution he led. Sandino and his supported fought against policies that oppressed the poor and against the government’s reliance on the United States. (“North Americans,” as we were told at the museum. Everyone we have met is carful not to saddle us with any blame.)

The Sandinistas in the 1980s took the name to honor the spirit of Augusto Sandino. The national hero is memorialized in many ways, including images of his silhouette and straw hats.

light tree and Sandino silhouette

One of the new “Tree of Life” lighted trees and the iconic Sandino image.

Next, our bus took us to the central plaza to see the National Museum — filled with artifacts, painting, sculpture and parakeets chirping in a courtyard.

The city’s center was badly damaged and basically abandoned after an earthquake in the 1970s. Recently, work has been done to reclaim the space as an attraction.

group

The group in front of the National Museum.

On the way back to Quaker House, children tried to climb on to the ladder of our bus. Rolando, the driver, got out of the bus and put on his dad face.

The group is staring to experience some mild culture shock. There was a lot of talk of pizza, fried chicken or some other sort of “American food.” But most of us are enjoying the traditional food prepared for us while at Quaker House.

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We are getting settled in at Quaker House. Our adventure in Nicaragua has begun!

Our journey to Managua was uneventful as far as airport travel goes. Our group made both flights with plenty of time to spare, everyone has all of the luggage they had when we left Kansas City and no one left anything on either plane or the bus. Good start, right?

group in Atlanta

In Atlanta

The Atlanta airport had art all over, plus tons of options for eating and shopping. We ended up with plenty of time to fill our bellies “with the last American food for two weeks.”

Even Travis, who said he is an extremely picky eater, found something. And Suzie shared an important tip: Don’t load up on greasy food when we get home. Last year she had a fast food hamburger in the airport and “regretted that decision.”

It is easy to see how having two people who have been to Nicaragua before in the group is going to be a huge help.

We are ready. Jenna got several Christmas gifts to help with the trip, including a water bottle with a powerful filter. Deanna and Nathan planned their packing around items they can leave behind – including sleeping bags. Katy has already used her Spanish skills to help out the entire group. Meghan has been reading up on the history of the country. And right now, the group is chatting on the back porch at Quaker House.

Two big surprises. First — If we can stand the taste of all of the chlorine, we can actually drink the tap water. We’ll likely opt for the filtered water available at ProNica and elsewhere we will visit.

Second — We can’t flush our toilet paper. It goes in a trash can. The plumbing system here can’t handle it. Although everything in the bowl is no problem, remembering to put all paper in a trash bin may be tricky.

Tomorrow we relax at a volcano lake. Ashante got to relaxing tonight with a ukulele at Quaker House. She played and sang bits of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Ashante jams

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Congratulations to the following Washburn students who are traveling abroad during winter or spring 2014:

Semester and short-term programs

Belgium

Michaela Lazzo and Ashley Russell will spend the semester at PXL University College, Hasselt. They are studying fine arts.

Finland

Caitlin Beckman, Sara Burton, Kelli Gramlich and Sarah Hayden will spend four weeks at Mikkeli University of Applied Studies in Savonlinna. They will also complete a clinical nursing experience.

France

Paul LaCount will spend the semester at University of Blaise Pascal, Clermont-Ferrand. He will study French language.

Ireland

Danae Nelson will spend the semester at National University of Ireland in Maynooth studying general education.

Netherlands

Rachel Catlett will spend the semester studying law at Maastricht University in Maastricht.

Faculty-Led Programs

Belize

Judith McConnell-Farmer, professor of education, is leading Brooke Brennan, Garrett Fenley, Chandler Hillebert, Natalie Jones, Lauren Journot, Courtney Kesselring, Jacob Lewis, Erin Macaronas, Ashley Murrell, Brittany Schuman, Rachel Seuell, Lon Talbert, Ryann Vobach, Mary Webb and Tasha Whittington.

During two weeks in and around Belize City, Belize, students will volunteer at orphanages and the Caye Caulker Island School. They also will attend the Belizean International Symposium on Education.

Belize1

Members of the delegation to Belize at the study abroad awards ceremony in November.

Costa Rica

Randy Pembrook, vice president for academic affairs at Washburn, is leading Joanna Becker, Ty Buschbom, Edith Jimenez, Rachel Klaus and Taylor Moore.

During their time in and around San Jose, Costa Rica, students will volunteer at a retreat camp, local orphanages and in dental clinics.

India

Andy Vogel, international student recruitment and retention, will lead Robert Florence, Kristen Hearrell and Jordan Mills as well as a number of community members.

During nearly three weeks in and around Pune, Maharashtra, India, the group will explore Indian culture and history through general study of ancient and contemporary traditions at Simbiosis International University.

Nicaragua

Rick EllisĀ  will lead Rachel Beiker, Travis Bussen, Kathryn Davis, Suzie Fields, Samantha Finley, Jenna Frick, Deanna Goracke, Laura Highland, Meghan McGuire, Tara Phillips, Katarzyna Potocka, Nathan Robertson, Wyatt Robinett and Ashonte Tell.

During just over two weeks in Nicaragua, students will explore the history and culture while engaged in service both in Managua and rural communities. Explore this blog to learn more about the students involved in this particular trip and their experiences in Nicaragua from Jan. 1-16, 2014.

members of the group

Meghan, Tara, Katy, Nathan, Deanna, Travis and Suzie at the awards ceremony in November

Rick Ellis

Rick Ellis talking about the upcoming trip at the ceremony in November